A year after pro-government forces recaptured Mosul from the Islamic State group, much of Iraq’s second city lies in ruins and many of its residents see little reason to celebrate.
“We were liberated but what have we come back to? Our homes have been destroyed,” said mother of seven Umm Mohammed.
On July 10, 2017, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi declared victory in the battle for the city after a nearly nine-month offensive against the jihadists.
The fiercest fighting took place around western Mosul’s Old City, where Umm Mohammed’s home near the Great Mosque of Al-Nuri has been reduced to rubble.
The mosque, once a famous landmark with its leaning minaret, is where the jihadists’ elusive chief, “caliph” Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, made his only public appearance.
Jihadists used explosives to blow up the famed 12th century mosque as the army closed in on them last summer.
Like many mosques, houses, schools and other buildings across Mosul, all that is left of it is a pile of rubble.
Although life has gone back to normal in some parts of eastern Mosul, the massive clean-up of the western part of the city only began a few weeks ago.
In a report released this week, the Norwegian Refugee Council bemoaned conditions in the city.
“More than 380,000 people are still displaced in and around Mosul as the city lies in ruins with a staggering eight million tons of debris,” it said.
– ‘Abject misery’ –
No official festivities were planned on Tuesday to mark the first anniversary of Mosul’s liberation from the brutal three-year rule of IS, which had used the northern city as the capital of its “caliphate” straddling the border with neighbouring Syria.
Residents said they had little to celebrate.
“The huge destruction has emptied our joy of any meaning,” said Abu Ghassoon, a 44-year-old unemployed man who lives in east Mosul after his home in the west was destroyed.
Ghadir Ibrahim Fattah, 35, agreed.
“We had expected reconstruction to begin immediately after (the jihadists were ousted) but nothing happened, and this has demoralised the people,” he said.
Residents accused the central government of dragging its feet, while the NRC has said the international community “is not doing enough”.
The Norwegian aid group estimates that $874 million (750 million euros) is needed to repair basic infrastructure in Mosul.
“What was hailed by the Iraqi authorities and the international community as a victory a year ago has not translated to relief from abject misery for many Iraqis from Mosul,” said its Iraq Country Director Wolfgang Gressmann.
Ghanem Hamid, a provincial official, told AFP the “central government has neglected the province” of Nineveh, of which Mosul is the capital.
“They have not offered us anything worth mentioning,” he said.
He noted that two major international conferences on rebuilding Iraq were held before and after Mosul was retaken — one in Paris and the other in Kuwait — but said donors’ pledges of massive funds had not materialised.
“It’s only ink on paper,” he said.
– Security fears –
But destruction is not the only hardship facing the people of Mosul.
Every Friday for the past year, women dressed in black have gathered in the city’s Al-Minassa Square, holding up pictures of missing husbands and sons as they seek information on their fates.
Some believe their loved ones were taken by the jihadists, while others think Iraqi security forces arrested them on suspicion of collaboration with IS.
Like the mothers of Argentina’s Plaza de Mayo who staged similar protests to seek information on their children who vanished during the 1976-1983 military junta, the women of Mosul have continued to demand answers.
“The government is not telling us anything,” said Umm Qais, a 40-year-old whose son is missing.
In the midst of all this, security fears continue to overshadow life across Iraq.
The jihadists still control pockets of territory along the porous border between Iraq and Syria, and have staged deadly attacks since Abadi declared nationwide victory over the group in December.
Last Wednesday, Iraqi forces launched a major operation against IS remnants after jihadists murdered a group of abducted civilians and dumped their bodies on a highway north of Baghdad.
Analyst Amr al-Bek noted that security forces including troops, policemen and paramilitary units have been deployed in Nineveh governorate.
But, he said, IS “could return, under a different name”.